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  • When I was young on the island two things separated real islanders from everyone else. Real islanders knew how to tie knots and real islanders could trip out a punt.

    Most people know a couple of knots and usually tie them ass backwards. Fishermen and sailors keep knot lore alive. One time I got a tow in from one of the Lunts coming in from Lunt Harbor out on Long Island. They all had big beamy lobster boats and came ashore with a swagger. I tied a sheetbend with a quick release and a screwdriver slipped in to ensure some slack. When the time came to cast me off he hauled in the line until he came to the knot. He grinned and gave me one little nod that said it all. I was one of them.

    Tripping a punt off from the shore was a critical skill on an island with no real harbor. When I was a kid there was no place to bring a boat in except the scraps of beach on either side of the ledges. Most of the time you left the boat on the mooring and loaded everything into a rowboat (punt) and rowed it ashore. Every box and bag and stick of lumber that came on the island was carried up and over the rocks. A box of groceries got handled 5 times before it made it to the kitchen counter.

    That left the big boat out on the mooring and the punt on the shore. With a 10-14 foot rise and fall of the tide twice a day the punt could be a long way from the water the next time it was wanted. The answer was to trip the punt out. Tripping a punt involves tying one end of a long rope to the punt's anchor. The anchor was balanced on the bow of the punt. Then carefully, with great attention to current, wind and the erratic trajectory of a small boat pushed stern first you shoved the punt out to deeper water. Let the long rope pay out slowly through your hands and at the last moment gave the long rope a quick jerk which tumbled the anchor off the bow. The free end of the long rope was tied to an iron stake set in the ledge. This left the punt anchored but accessible.

    A lot could go wrong with this simple procedure and I watched people new to the island and boats out to their waist in the numbing cold water the rope tangled around their legs, cursing as the anchor dropped backwards into the boat, trying again and again to get it right.

    To get the punt tripped out on a windy day so it would be where it was needed the next time out was an art.

    When was in my twenties the islanders realized that their tax money was not getting them any services. The Town agreed to provide a float and a ramp. A team of island elders directed the placement of float and ramp, mixed cement and filled in the gaps between the rocks. Now there was a place to bring a big boat in and unload, a place to tie your punt where any old knot would do, and a smooth path to carry provisions, materials and supplies.

    Progress.

    I told myself a poem that day and carried it with me until writing it now.


    they built a bridge today
    made smooth the way
    but I
    I hopped
    from rock to rock
    I made it
    a point of pride
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